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The "Hillside Stranglings" remains one of the most infamous crimes to ever strike fear in Los Angeles residents. Within just the span of a few months in the late 1970s, the nude bodies of murdered women were discovered in the hills surrounding the iconic California city.
“The Hillside Strangler: Devil in Disguise," a four-part docuseries premiering August 2 on Peacock, offers a new, in-depth peek inside the minds of the adoptive cousins behind the spree, Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono, who impersonated off-duty police officers to lure victims, making them feel safe enough to get close to them.
In all, 10 women and girls were murdered during the California spree (although Bianchi killed another two on his own in Washington state), and their bodies were found on the hillsides of East Los Angeles. Many of the victims had signature ligature marks on their wrists and ankles, and all had been strangled to death
While there has been much focus on the odd relationship between the two homicidal cousins, one should not forget the lives lost from their senseless crimes. As the new docuseries points out, some of their victims were sex workers and because of sexism and societal judgement of sex workers, the public response to the killings was initially muted.
Yolanda Washington, 19, was the first murder victim preyed upon by the serial killers. She was found dead on October 18, 1977, in the hills near Griffith Park, according to ABC News. She had been raped and there were ligature marks on her body, which would soon become a signature of the serial killing spree.
Dr. Lois Lee, founder of Children of the Night, a non-profit dedicating to rescuing victims of sex trafficking, states in the documentary that she was a “very beautiful, refined young Black woman and she was working in order to support her daughter.”
Lee had met Washington as a result of her work advocating for sex workers.
“She had pride, she had self esteem, she carried herself very well,” she says in the docuseries.
Weeks later, on Halloween 1977, the nude body of Judith Miller, just 15, was also found in the hills overlooking Glendale, according to ABC News. Her body, which also bore ligature marks, had been dumped by a curb in a residential neighborhood.
She was found posed in a sexualized position.
“It was clear that she had been dropped there intentionally,” says former reporter Jim Mitchell, adding that she had been strangled and bound by her wrists and ankles.
Miller “was on the street in Hollywood quite a bit,” according to Mitchell, and may have been working as a sex worker “from time to time.”
On Nov. 6, 1977, the body of Lissa Kastin, 21, was discovered dumped in the Chevy Chase Canyon area near a country club. She too was found naked, with ligature marks on her wrists and ankles. She appeared to have been brutally raped, says retired Glendale homicide detective Joe Chester.
Kastin was a local waitress who was trying to become a professional dancer in the L.A. dance scene.
“She was a young woman trying to make it in Hollywood,” Chester tells the producers of “The Hillside Strangler.”
The night she had disappeared, her coworkers noticed that she had been talking to two customers who may have been acting suspiciously.
On Nov. 20, 1977, the body of Kristina Weckler, 20, was found partially under a bush on a hillside in a residential area of Los Angeles. She had ligature marks on her wrists, her ankles, and her neck, and no self-defense wounds. There were also two puncture marks on her arm. Later, it was determined that cleaning fluids had been injected into her to torture her.
She was attending the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and was described as a quiet honors student.
Evelyn Jane King
The body of Evelyn Jane King, 28, was discovered on Nov. 23, 1977. Hers was the first of four victims found in the same week.
King was an actress who vanished while waiting for a bus. Her body was found in some bushes by a freeway off-ramp.
“She happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time,” her mother says in news footage included in the docuseries.
Dolores Cepeda and Sonja Johnson
Dolores “Dolly” Cepeda, 12, and Sonja Johnson, 14, were the Hillside Stranglers’ youngest victims. The two close friends were abducted getting off a bus at Eagle Rock Plaza, according to the Los Angeles Times. Their bodies were found on Nov. 20.
Their murders, likely because of their age, helped push the case into the spotlight, igniting fear in residents around Los Angeles.
Lauren Wagner, 18, was a business school student whose body was found on Nov. 29, 1977.
Michele Kestler, retired forensic investigator with the Los Angeles Police Department, notes in the docuseries that “she appeared to have been pulled over” and pulled into her driveway.
Like the other victims, her body was found on a hillside. On the inside of her hands were burn marks, indication that the serial killers were torturing their victims. Kestler notes that it appeared that she may have been burned with an electrical cord.
Kestler also found evidence to suggest that Wagner had been handcuffed. At this point, investigators concluded that either a police officer or someone posing as a police officer may have been the culprit. As a result, they issued a warning to female drivers stopped by officers to make sure that they were actual police. Women were no longer obligated to pull over; they were told they could drive home and then call the police in the name of safety.
On Dec. 14. 1977, the body of Kimberly Martin, 17, was found on a deserted lot near Los Angeles City Hall.
Marcia Martin, her sister, reflects in the docuseries that while growing up in a foster home, Kimberly often acted as a protector. After years of being separated as kids, Marcia heard from her sister and met up with her for Thanksgiving in 1977.
Kimberly had a “nice apartment” on Sunset Boulevard, where they cooked a Thanksgiving meal together, according to Marcia. Kimberly told her sister that she was a model and that her career was taking off.
But on Dec. 13, during a phone call, Kimberly told her sister that there were things about her life that she couldn’t tell her about yet.
“But I need you to know that my life is not perfect,” Kimberly told Marcia. She didn’t say it, but she had been working as a sex worker.
She was soon found murdered. She had been lured out by her killer through an escort service.
Kimberly’s body had been dumped over the side of a hill in the Silver Lake area, where it was visible from police headquarters.
Cindy Hudspeth was a 20-year-old waitress whose body was discovered, along with her beloved orange car, on Feb. 17, 1978.
Her former coworker Wanda Huff describes the teen as a “shy” and “innocent.”
“She had her own apartment,” Huff reflects. “She was supporting herself.”
Hudspeth would go dancing at nightclubs. Huff says she never drank but loved to dance.
The teen had just gotten her first brand new car when she was killed. Huff remembers the horror of seeing Hudspeth’s car being pulled up a cliff on television after learning she had been murdered. Hudspeth’s body was found in the trunk. She had been strangled and there were ligature marks on her body.
For more on this case, watch “The Hillside Strangler: Devil in Disguise," a four-part docuseries premiering August 2 on Peacock.
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